Minority Report and cloud cover: business IT predictions for 2011


Date: 16 December 2010

This article should be fun to read in December 2011. Let’s see if I can at least get a 50% hit rate. If 2010 was the year of the cloud, I suspect that 2011 just might be the year in which a little realism sets in.

In particular, stand by for the dawning realisation that small businesses still need servers - very small and simple servers – but servers nonetheless. Not everything works better in the cloud – think advanced image editing with Photoshop, think simple printer sharing.

In this respect, look out for the newest versions of Microsoft’s Small Business Server software, which will focus on providing a bridge between the office and the cloud. (Disclosure: Macnamara, my company, sells Microsoft-based IT solutions.)

Leaving aside Microsoft’s growing confusion as to whether it is in the on-site or hosted services market, what should you look out for in business technology in 2011? Here are five predictions:

1. Someone will come up with a business use for the awesome Kinect. If you haven’t tried this out yet, make sure you get one as a Christmas present for the teenager in your life (if you have to get them an Xbox in order to use it, that’s more than worthwhile).

Kinect is the nearest thing we’ve got to the legendary ‘Minority Report’ gesture controlled interface. Once you have tried one you’ll kill to find a way to get it into the office. So the race is on to find a business application.

2. 2011 will see a rash of tablets, slates and pads of one sort or another. Will the we see a BlackBerry slate, a ‘CrackPad’ or a ‘BlackPad’? If RIM, the geniuses behind BlackBerry, do manage to get a slate of some sort into the market I am more than happy to stick my neck out and predict a business winner.

Wouldn’t it just be lovely to have a slate with full, fast business functionality (and a bit of glitz in the background) but with the focus on productivity? If they can pull it off, 2011 might be the year in which even the iPad has to get real. (Apple could start by adding some standard connections, like USB ports.)

3. Businesses will start to consider VDI. Many companies now understand that they can save hardware, energy and management costs by creating ‘virtual servers’, using one physical server to do the job of several.

But where desktop computers are concerned, things are as chaotic as ever. So watch out for the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Instead of each person in your business having their own separate computer, they’ll have a ‘dumb terminal’ – with not only their software but their desktop operating system running on a central server.

Companies like VMware, Citrix and Microsoft are starting to battle it out in this area, so expect to see prices tumbling, simpler versions appearing - and a real business case emerging for VDI.

4. Customer relationship management (CRM) for the rest of us is here. Expect real traction on the back of next year’s Microsoft launch of Office 365. In a decade, the cost of CRM systems has fallen from several hundred thousand pounds to tens of thousands.

In 2011 a one-person, fully customisable CRM system costing less than £200 a year will become a reality. Expect Microsoft to wipe the floor with the competition – unless (and this would not be unusual) they mess up the marketing.

5. Web apps will get better and cost less Web apps – which replace programs running on your computer with programs you access over the internet - have arrived, and 2011 is going to see them get better and cost less.

Microsoft Office Web Apps is a version of Microsoft Office you can use online, and it’s a first step towards making useful functionality available online and for free. Microsoft has been forced down this path by Google Docs and others and has produced a fairly grudging little service essentially designed to push you towards their full Microsoft Office software. However, keep an eye on this during 2011 as they add more functionality.

In 2011 Microsoft is going to have to make its mind up about the cloud, and Office is its Trojan horse. Maybe not quite by the end of 2011 (but it won’t be far off), Microsoft will sacrifice the massive revenues it gets from Office in order to make its cloud offering irresistible.

Of all five, I suspect that Kinect may well turn out to be the game changer, because it gives us a glimpse of an entirely new way of interacting with computer systems.

This post is by Ciaran Kenny, owner of Macnamara.

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